Town of Cary
North Carolina

Comprehensive Plan Amendment

Lewter Property Comprehensive Plan Amendment 15-CPA-07


Category:Comprehensive Plan (Planning)

Speaker:  Scott Ramage


Executive Summary: This is a Comprehensive Plan Amendment request for three properties totaling approximately 21.55 acres located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Green Level Church Road and Carpenter Fire Station Road.  The site is currently designated on Cary’s Northwest Area Plan as being mostly Medium to High Density Residential (MDR to HDR), with a small portion designated as Parks or Open Space (PKS/OS).  Two special Plan Map Notes also apply to the site.  The applicant proposes to amend the Comprehensive Plan by adding the site to the adjacent Cary Park Community Activity Center (CAC), and changing the underlying land use designation to Commercial (COM) or Medium Density Residential (MDR). There is a Rezoning Application (15-REZ-16) associated with this case. 


Proposed Council Action: Council may take action.




Property Owner

County Parcel Number

Real Estate ID

Deeded Acreage

Peggy Harwood Lewter and Grover Lewter

325 Davis Drive

Cary, NC  27519










Total Area






Property Owner

Applicants’ Agent

Glenda Toppe

Glenda S. Toppe & Associates

4138 Garden Lake Drive

Raleigh, NC  27612


21.55 ±

General Location

Northwest corner of the intersection of  Carpenter Fire Station Road and Green Level Church Road


Public Hearing

Nov. 19, 2015

Planning & Zoning Board

January 25, 2016

Town Council

February 25, 2016

Current Land Use Plan Designation

“Medium to High Density Residential” (MDR to HDR) and “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS), with 2 plan notes

Proposed Land Use Plan Designation

“Commercial” (COM) or Medium Density Residential (MDR) and “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS), and also within the Cary Park Mixed-Use Community Activity Center (CAC), removing Note #7

Existing Zoning District(s)

Residential 40 (R-40)

Existing Zoning Conditions


Town Limits

The subject property is located outside the corporate limits but inside the Town of Cary ETJ. 

Staff Contact

Scott Ramage, Principal Planner

(919) 462-3888




Current Use of Site:  The 2.28 acre parcel at the southern end of the site currently includes a single-family home.  The 14.41 and 4.86 acre parcels are currently vacant.


Adjacent Land Uses and Streams:

North:  Morris Branch.  North of Morris Branch and its associated open space lies a 15-lot single family subdivision, the Courtyards of Cary.


South:  Morrisville Carpenter Road.  South of that road is a bank parcel and a single family parcel, the latter currently the subject of another pending rezoning case, 15-REZ-11. 


East:  Green Level Church Road.  East of the road is the Meachum property, which was rezoned to MXD District with a Preliminary Development Plan (PDP) in January 2014 as case 13-REZ-17, for a future shopping center. 


West:  Arlington Park Subdivision, a medium-density community of small-lot, single family detached homes. 



Consistent with NC General Statutes, notice of the public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment was mailed to property owners within 800 feet of the subject property, published on the Town’s website, and posted on the subject property.

Town Council Public Hearing of November 18, 2015
At the Town Council Public Hearing the applicant spoke in favor the CPA request.  Ten persons spoke in opposition to the request citing concerns over connectivity to the residential development to the west, traffic, crime and safety concerns, and the lack of a market for additional retail in the area. Four persons spoke in favor of the request stating there was a need for more restaurants, medical and retail services in the area.


Following the public hearing council members urged the applicant and neighbors to continue to work together to attempt to work out a development plan that is acceptable to all.  Some councilmembers expressed opinions against seeing high density residential on this property.  Other councilmembers noted that should this property be developed commercially there should be pedestrian connectivity to the neighborhood to the west.


Changes Since the November 18, 2015 Town Council Public Hearing

The applicant modified their CPA request to change the land use designation from “Medium to High Density Residential” (MDR to HDR) and “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS) to “Commercial” (COM) and “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS) to Commercial (COM) or Medium Density Residential (MDR) and “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS), with the removal of Note 7.  Note 7 establishes a maximum density of 10 units per acre.


With this modification requested by the applicant, the possibility for the inclusion of medium density housing on the property would be permitted and with the removal of Note 7, the maximum density would fall under the MDR cap of 8 units per acre, thus lowering the overall density permitted on this site.


Planning and Zoning Board Public Hearing of January 25, 2016

At the public hearing the applicant spoke in favor the CPA request.  In addition, during the hearing the project engineer, the prospective site developer, and the landowner also spoke in favor of the request.  Eleven other people spoke during the hearing – one in favor of the request, one ambivalent, and nine opposed. The citizen speaking in favor felt that more shopping choices were needed in the area.  Topics raised by those in opposition included:  (a) reliance of homeowners on the existing Land Use Plan designation; (b) concerns about a potential over-supply of commercial uses in the area; (c) concerns about road connectivity; (d) concerns about potential noise, light, traffic, and activity impacts; (e) worries about crime and safety; and (f) that commercial uses would not constitute a reasonable transition to the medium-density single-family in the adjacent neighborhood.  Of those speaking in opposition, many also mentioned that while they opposed the proposed plan amendment, they also did not care for the existing area plan’s inclusion of HDR (High Density Residential) as a use for the site. 


Board Action:  The Planning Board voted 7-1 to recommend in favor of the amendment. 

Board Discussion:  Board members mentioned that the plan amendment for “COM or MDR” would provide additional flexibility on the site for a future rezoning case, and would provide options for multiple types of future rezoning proposals.  Some also felt that the amendment’s removal of HDR as a housing option would be a positive thing for the community.  Some felt that the western area of Cary did not have sufficient retail options, and adding a COM plan option would be positive. Several members felt that it would also be positive to place the site within the Cary Park Community Activity Center (CAC), because then a rezoning case would need to seek MXD District zoning, which will require a PDP (Preliminary Development Plan) – which in turn will allow the community to know with greater specificity exactly what is being proposed.




comprehensive plan SUMMARY 


Northwest Area Plan


For this site, the primary governing land use element of the Comprehensive Plan is the Northwest Area Plan. 


Current Northwest Area Plan Recommendations

The Northwest Plan’s Map 1 (Future Land Use Map) recommends that the majority of this site be used for “Medium to High Density Residential” development (“MDR to HDR”), with a small portion of the site recommended for “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS).  The “MDR to HDR” portion of the site is also subject to Note #7 on Map 1, Future Land Use, and the “PKS/OS” portion of the site is also subject to Note #5 on Map 2, Multi-Use Paths, Parks, and Schools.  (See the Plan Maps.)


For the “MDR to HDR” area, Map Note #7 states that the maximum density should not exceed 10 dwellings per acre.  The joint effect of the “MDR to HDR” and Note #7 designations is that the subject site is recommended for single family detached, attached, or multifamily housing at anywhere from 3 to 10 dwellings per acre.  However, the precise density that may be appropriate at this site will depend on compatibility with, and transitions to, adjacent built developments.  In addition to these residential uses, the plan document notes that within MDR and HDR areas, a “variety of neighborhood-compatible and complimentary institutional uses may also be considered such as churches, schools, and daycare facilities.”


For the “PKS/OS” area, Map Note #5 explains the intent to create “open space corridors” along Morris Branch, Nancy Branch, Panther Creek, and Kit Creek.  The Northwest Plan recommends the open space corridors be approximately 400 feet wide on average -- equivalent to an average 200-foot of open space on each side of the streams. The additional open space was intended to offset water quality impacts associated with high intensity development in the northwest area, as well as to provide linear open space amenities and greenway trails.  The northern edge of the subject site is adjacent to Morris Branch and its associated Open Space Corridor, which is why much of the northernmost parcel in the tract is designated for PKS/OS uses.  Most of the adjacent and nearby developments have voluntarily accommodated the recommendations for the Morris Branch Open Space Corridor, including developments within the Amberly, Cary Park, and Cameron Pond PDD’s. 


The Northwest Plan also recommends that greenways be sited outside of the first 100 feet of the stream’s combined riparian and UTB buffers.  In the case of the subject property, the Morris Branch Greenway has already been constructed offsite on the northern side of Morris Branch, in accordance with those recommendations


Proposed Amendment to the Northwest Area Plan

The applicant proposes to amend the Comprehensive Plan by adding the site to the adjacent Cary Park Community Activity Center (CAC), and changing the underlying land use designation from “MDR to HDR” to “Commercial” (COM).  The applicant does not propose any amendments to Note #7 on Map 1, or Note #5 on Map 2, or to the “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS) area on the site.


Planning History for the Site 

·         1996.  At the time Cary’s townwide Land Use Plan was adopted in 1996, the Plan Map recommended that the subject site be developed as Low Density Residential (LDR), which was defined as single-family, 1-3 dwellings per acre. 


·         2002.  The future land use recommendations were updated in September 2002, with adoption of the Northwest Area Plan.  The Northwest Area Plan changed the future land use recommendations for the area to the current designations of “MDR to HDR” (with a maximum of 10 dwellings per acre) and “PKS/OS” (reflecting a portion of the Morris Branch Open Space Corridor).  The new residential designation conformed to the zoning of the adjacent Amberly PDD Tract MF-2, located immediately west of the subject site.    


Analysis of Plan Conformance 


1.  Conformance with Development Metrics for the Activity Center

Since the amendment proposes to add the subject site to the Cary Park Community Activity Center (CAC), the request should be evaluated against the recommended land use metrics for community activity centers.  The table below summarizes the projected buildout of the Cary Park CAC, with and without approval of the proposed plan amendment, and compares those figures to the recommended development ranges given in Chapter 6 of the Townwide Land Use Plan.  (Buildout is based on existing and approved development within the CAC, plus the development figures associated with the proposed Preliminary Development Plan for the site, from the associated rezoning case 15REZ16.)



Projected Buildout of Cary Park CAC

Land Use Plan Recommended Ranges for a CAC

Land Use Plan Metric

Without Amendment

With Amendment

Commercial/retail floor space (sq. ft.)



250,000 to 600,000

Office/Institutional floor space (sq. ft.)



250,000 to 650,000

office share of total nonresidential floor space



30 – 70%

No. of residential units per 1,000 sq. ft. of nonresidential space



0.5 to 3.0,

with recommended min. of 1.25

Number of dwelling units:



250 - 3,750


Three findings emerge from the above table:


a.       Without the plan amendment, total commercial/retail space within the CAC will be somewhat under the recommended minimum, while with the amendment commercial space will be within the recommended range, albeit at the low end.


b.       The amount of office space with or without the amendment is less than the recommended minimum of 250,000 sq. ft.  However, without the amendment the ratio of office space to total nonresidential space is within the recommended range.  With the proposed amendment, the office space share of total nonresidential space falls below the recommended ratio. 


c.       The number of supporting residential units within the CAC is reasonable with or without the proposed amendment.


2.  Conformance with the Purpose and Intent of Activity Centers

The purpose and intent of activity centers is given in Section 6.2.1 of Chapter 6 of the Townwide Land Use Plan.  Among the stated intentions are the following:


·         Prevent commercial strip development along boulevards…

·         Improve the quality of life for those living in high- and medium-density housing, by placing daily conveniences, shops, and employment within walking distance.”


Regarding the first bullet, the proposed amendment would place commercial development along the west side of Green Level Church Road, which to date is mostly free of commercial development for over a mile north and south of the site.  However, commercial development does exist along the east side of the road, and has been approved for property immediately opposite the subject site. 


Regarding the second bullet, the proposed amendment would present an opportunity to provide shopping within walking distance of residential communities west of Green Level Church Road, and north of Morrisville Carpenter Road, without the need to cross a major thoroughfare.  In addition, pedestrian access would be provided to a wide number of nearby neighborhoods via the Morris Branch Greenway, at the northern edge of the site.  


3.  Conformance with Policies for Land Use Transitions

A recurring theme and design principle throughout the Town’s area plans and townwide Land Use Plan is that appropriate transitions should be provided between adjacent land uses.  Transitions may be provided in a number of ways, including gradual changes in types of land uses, intensities of development, architectural and design transitions, and separation and buffering. 


The proposed amendment would place commercial (COM) uses immediately adjacent to a medium-density neighborhood (MDR).  Whether or not this forms an acceptable transition may depend on the specific transitional elements proposed in a future rezoning and development plan, including elements such as buffers, views, site design and architecture, and building placement.  For example, on the southeast quadrant of the intersection, the Cary Park Town Center transitions eastward to a multifamily apartment complex, then further east to a townhome development.  However, on the northeast quadrant the approved Park Corner shopping center (Meachum Property) transitions eastward to an adjacent medium-density townhome community. 


The feasibility of siting commercial development next to single-family residential is evidenced by the fact that within Cary today there are almost twenty existing or pending commercial center sites located next to single-family.  The method utilized to achieve the transition between the commercial and single-family uses tends to be slightly different for each of those cases.  Methods employed include building setbacks, intervening roadways, site perimeter buffers, and stream buffers.


The applicant’s amended request now includes Commercial or Medium Density Residential.  Should this request move forward to rezoning the opportunity may exists for the project to provide transition with the use of medium density residential uses as well.


Growth Management Plan
The Growth Management Plan includes the following Guiding Principles which are relevant to this case: 


·         Guiding Principle A1: Increase permitted densities in preferred growth areas to encourage desired forms of development.

ObservationAt the level of this Comprehensive Plan Amendment, it is not yet possible to determine whether the site will be developed at an above-average commercial intensity.


·         Guiding Principle R1: Ensure that adequate infrastructure and services are available concurrently with new development. 

Observation:  The site is in an infill location, and public services (water, sewer) are or will be available in close proximity. 


·         Guiding Principle L1: Concentrate growth near existing and planned employment centers and available and planned infrastructure to minimize costly service-area extensions.

Observation:  The site is located site is located about 2 miles from the southern entrance to Research Triangle Park, and less than 2 miles from the Alston Regional Activity Center. 


·         Guiding Principle L2: Ensure that future growth protects sensitive natural resources and protects open space.

Observation:  The amendment does not propose to change the Parks or Open Space recommendations of the Northwest Area Plan.


Analysis:  The proposed plan amendment appears to be consistent with Principles R1, L1, and L2.  At the level of this CPA, it is not yet possible to determine whether or not Principle A1 will be supported.


Affordable Housing Plan 
The Affordable Housing Plan includes the following goals that may be relevant to this case: 


1.       Provide for a full range of housing choices for all income groups, families of various sizes, seniors, and persons with special challenges.


2.       Encourage the location of high density housing within walking and convenient commuting distance of employment, shopping, and other activities, or within a short walk of a bus or transit stop, through "mixed use" developments, residences created on the upper floors of nonresidential downtown buildings, and other creative strategies.


3.       Facilitate the creation of a reasonable proportion of the Town of Cary’s housing as affordable units through additional homeownership opportunities for individuals and families earning between 60% and 80% of area median income and affordable apartments for individuals and families earning up to 60% of the area median income.


Comments:  Since the proposed amendment would remove 21 acres from availability for future housing, the case does not appear to advance goals 1 and 3 above.  However, by siting commercial uses adjacent to residential neighborhoods, the amendment may help to advance goal 2 above, depending on the nature of the future zoning of the site.  


Comprehensive Transportation Plan             
Green Level is designated as a Major Thoroughfare

Existing Section:   26 feet back-of curb to back-of-curb, within approximately 142-foot right-of-way

Future Section:   4-lane median-divided section with 100-foot right-of-way, and 78 feet back-of-curb to back-of-curb

Sidewalks:  Required on both sides
Bicycle Lanes:  14-foot-wide outside lanes
Status of Planned Improvements:  N/A


Carpenter Fire Station is designated as a Major Thoroughfare

Existing Section:   26 feet back-of curb to back-of-curb, within 95 to 105 feet of varying right-of-way

Future Section:   4-lane median-divided section with 100 feet of right-of-way, and 78 feet back-of-curb to back-of-curb

Sidewalks:  Required on both sides
Bicycle Lanes:  14-foot-wide outside lanes
Status of Planned Improvements:  N/A


Transit ServiceThe nearest fixed-route transit service is provided by Triangle Transit Route 311, on NC Highway 55, approximately 1.6 miles east of the site. 


Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources
According to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Facilities Master Plan there are no public parks or greenways proposed for this particular site. The Morris Branch Greenway and Amberly Lake Greenway are located about 500 feet north and west of the subject property, and street-side trail is located along the opposite side of Green Level Church Road. 


A recreation fund payment or park land dedication will be required for any residential development in accordance with the Land Development Ordinance.  Staff recommends that a recreation fund payment be made for this site in lieu of a land dedication should any residential development be proposed.


Open Space Plan
According to the Town’s inventory of natural resource areas, the site includes mixed conifers and hardwoods of moderate resource value along the western half of the site, and along Morris Branch at the northern end of the site. 


Historic Preservation Master Plan

There are no historic resources associated with this site. 




Attached are the applicant’s responses to the Comprehensive Plan Amendment justification questions as contained in the application form.  Please note that these statements are those of the applicant and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Town of Cary. 




Section 3.2.2(B) of the Land Development Ordinance states that proposals to amend the Comprehensive Plan shall be evaluated based upon whether the amendment is necessary in order to address conditions including, but not limited to, the following:


1.       A change in projections or assumptions from those on which the Comprehensive Plan is based;


2.       Identification of new issues, needs, or opportunities that are not adequately addressed in the Comprehensive Plan;


3.       A change in the policies, objectives, principles, or standards governing the physical development of the or any other geographic areas addressed by the Comprehensive Plan; or


4.       Identification of errors or omissions in the Comprehensive Plan.


Analysis: Items #1 and #2 above are relevant to this amendment request.  The Cary Park Community Activity Center was originally planned to center around the intersection of Cary Glen Boulevard and Carpenter Fire Station Road.  Through several rezonings and subsequent developments the Cary Park Activity Center has moved west and is now more centered on the intersection of Green Level Church Rd and Carpenter Fire Station Road.  The current request to include the Lewter Property in the Cary Park Activity Center is a market driven result of the overall westward shift of the activity center.


Regarding Item #2, an unaddressed need could exist if it seems likely that this area may end up being under-served by grocery-anchored shopping centers.  Some sites that had been planned for grocery stores in the area have been converted to school sites and other uses, while other sites have been rezoned to accommodate groceries.     Along with Alston Activity Center, the Cary Park activity center are the two most successful commercial developments in northwest Cary and would appear to be a logical choice for new commercial development


Staff observation and recommendation



The applicant’s request to change the land use designation from Medium to High Density Residential” (MDR to HDR) and “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS) to Commercial or Medium Density Residential” (COM or MDR) and “Parks or Open Space” (PKS/OS), with inclusion within the Cary Park Mixed-Use Community Activity Center (CAC), and removing Note #7 from the subject site, appears to be a reasonable request based on the opportunity to improve the overall mix of the activity center, and the ability to provide transitions to, and compatibility with, surrounding land uses. 


Staff recommends approval of this Comprehensive Plan Amendment request.